Players from Nigeria’s most successful women’s football club, Pelican Stars of Cross River State, have been protesting outside the Government House in Calabar over salaries that they say have not been paid for 10 months.
Three-quarters of Nigerian women’s teams are state-owned and therefore dependent on the state’s government for wages, including Pelican Stars.
Their male counterparts have been being paid, one of the players – who held five-hour demonstrations on Monday and Wednesday – told the BBC Sport Africa.
Pelican Stars are one of Africa’s top women’s football clubs, having won seven women’s Premier League titles. But the players said they are not sure the state still wants the club’s existence.
“It has really been a big shock for us, maltreating the female team in Cross River like this,” one player told BBC Sport Africa under anonymity.
“We got relegated three years ago in the 2017/2018 league, so we played pro league last season to qualify for the premier league.
“Unfortunately, to date, we have had nothing – our bonuses, our allowances from last season – and no news about anything, or hope coming forward for it.”
The Cross River State’s Commissioner for Sports, Offa Aya, conceded that the state’s male professional teams, such as UNICEM Rovers, have been paid, but said that this was due to some private individuals helping out with donations.
”How will we discriminate against our daughters? We are going to pay them,” he said.
“We asked them to exercise a little patience – they were not the only ones involved.
“There were other clubs, like Ayade Babes and Canaan Table Tennis, whose payments were settled last – they wouldn’t allow us to arrange the account to start paying, then they went on to protest,” he said.
“There are private individuals who have adopted some of these clubs, like UNICEM Rovers, but for the Pelicans, we are still begging for people to assist us.”
The Pelican players insist that the lack of payment is discriminatory as their salary backlog of at least N60,000 ($165) per month dates as far back as June 2019, when salaries for April to June were paid to them just before they went on their 2019 Christmas break.
“That is the reason why we have to take this bold step to go the Government House.
”It’s like Pelican Stars is dead – or maybe the state Governor, (Senator Ben Ayade) does not want the team anymore.
”We don’t know. We just want to get information. Maybe, if he wants the team, fine. If he doesn’t want the team, we should go home.
However, the club Chairman, Sam Kombor, told BBC Sport Africa that the players have been owed eight months of salary, instead of 10, as their backlog dates from August 2019.
”If we knew that placard they wrote 10 months, we would have corrected them,” he said.
“I am the chairman of the club. They are also owing me, but the truth remains that it is eight months from August 2019.”